My Sister’s Cats: A Story About Commitment

My sister Andrea had a tough beginning and her life never really got any easier. By her 30s, when she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, she had settled down and found some happiness taking care of animals, many of them rescued from bad homes or abandonment.

A year ago last fall, after 15 years battling one medical setback after another, she called me, crying, and asked me to take her half-Siamese, partly feral cat Tinker to a shelter. She was too sick and weak and couldn’t handle his needs anymore.

The C Word
It didn’t occur to me to take him. I didn’t have a steady job and was living in a friend’s basement. I was a dog person and didn’t really get cats. And I was terrified of commitment, especially not being able to take care of animals. I tried to find someone among my cat people friends, but no new owner materialized.

One of the many permanent wounds of Andrea’s life was losing her then-3-year-old son to Social Services. Wondering where he was, if he was okay, if she should have fought harder to keep him. I couldn’t imagine taking Tinks to a shelter, even a good no-kill place, and leaving him there to fend for himself. Our mom and other sister Beth had shouldered most of the responsibility for taking care of Andrea, but neither of them could take Tinks.

Time for me to grow up a little and commit. My housemate, a lifelong cat person herself, said yes and I was so relieved to be able to tell my sister that I would take her boy cat.

Tinks
As the story goes, Andrea had found out her neighbor was beating up on the alley cat he’d taken in. She stormed over and took Tinker away, blending him in with her older cat Daisy. He hid whenever I came over. I’d barely seen him except once when he let me pet him until he bit me.

Picking him up was both easier and more painful than I’d imagined. Andrea, barely able to walk or breathe, managed to wrestle him into the cat carrier, managed to keep it together, managed to let him go. But it was the last thing she wanted to do. She knew her time to go was near or she never would have given up her Tinkie.

He yowled all the way to his new home but once there, went tharn and wouldn’t come out of his carrier. Andrea and my Facebook friends said to leave him alone and let him come to me. After three days, he came out of his hiding place and started eating. Another week and he let me play with him. I was amazed as he slowly began to adapt, to trust again, to accept me as the person who would be taking care of him. After a few weeks, Andrea asked if I liked having a cat and I could honestly answer yes.

Daisy
Around Thanksgiving, the fistula they’d put in Andrea’s leg for easier dialysis failed again. She had to go into the hospital for the thousandth time. Others had always taken care of the cats when Andrea was away. This time I said I’d go feed Daisy. I had the feeling she should get to know me.

Daisy lived at the vet’s when she was a kitten, abandoned when her owners didn’t want to pay the bill. One of the vet techs talked Andrea into taking the sweet little thing. Alone in Andrea’s place without even Tinks for company, Daisy came out when I poured her food, a small black and white cat who at 14 looked and acted like a kitten. She cuddled sort of desperately with me and I called Andrea and told her how much she was missed. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if she didn’t have her fur baby to come home to.

December 1st, 2012
Less than a week later, Andrea was home when the fistula burst open again. She was alone in her apartment except for Daisy–Mom made it there before Andrea was completely gone but she was unresponsive.

Then the hospital scenes. Waiting in the private room where they pull families aside to give them bad news. The doctor coming in to tell us Andrea couldn’t be revived. Crying, viewing the body, praying, phone calls. Touching my sister’s cold arm, I promised her that I would do everything in my power to keep her babies warm and safe and dry.

Beth and I went to get Daisy. The little cat waiting alone for the mom who would never come home. Daisy hid in her usual place behind the entertainment center, running away through my sister’s blood, the chaos of the EMTs trying to save her. Mom had tried to warn us about all the blood, but of course you never really–

All the way home, I worried about Daisy, that she wouldn’t be okay, that she couldn’t bond with anyone else. But she came out of the carrier after a few hours, or at least tried to–Tinks had become used to being an only cat and didn’t want to let her out. Scraggly and reeking of my sister’s cigarette smoke, she still crawled onto my lap and let me pet her. She was okay, a small miracle.

Trips to the Vet
Only not so okay. Less than a month later, she got a nasty UTI, which led to hyperthyroid pills, which led to a diagnosis of kidney failure. She was very sick and the vet didn’t know how long she had. I received just the smallest taste of what it must have been like for my mother, rushing her daughter to the ER, tending to her, getting her meds, wondering how bad it was, unable to sleep for worry. But I was grateful Daisy’s body had waited until after my sister left to fall apart. Too awful for Andrea to have to know about that.

Another thing I’m  grateful for is that I managed to get it together to take pictures of Tinks so that during that last hospital stay I could bring the camera to my sister. She was so relieved to see the boy she’d had to give up looking healthy and happy. Now when I grab the camera and take pictures of the kitties doing silly little nothings, I like to imagine Andrea can see them, like looking through a magic mirror. She knows her sister was good to her word and the fur babies are warm and safe and dry. And loved beyond all reason.

Cat Lady
Now, over a year later, thanks to a great vet and great friends and family who’ve helped me afford my sick little kitty, Daisy is still here, still taunting Tinks into chasing her to get him in trouble, still sickly but hanging in there. I’m a crazy cat lady, with mugs and sweaters and cat toys to prove it. And when I feel survivor’s guilt, that these are my sister’s cats and she should be here to bask in the juicy kitty love, I tell myself that at least they’re with family, the last living connection to my sister.

When people give me a hard time about staying home with my cats, the expense, giving up writer’s conferences and Comic Con, I brush it off. I hold tight to Daisy when she clings to me like a little monkey baby. I pay attention to Tinks when he needs me to and leave him alone when he doesn’t. For someone who’s not religious, a promise to a sister on her deathbed is as close as I come to the sacred. What could be more important than this?

I even bought a house with my sister Beth and committed to staying in it so our sister’s cats would have a permanent place to live. Commitment, hard and scary though it is, no longer feels like it’s choking me or like a burden. It feels like home.

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20th Anniversary of The X-Files Celebration: More Best Of Lists

20th anniversaries only come around once and I’m making a big fuss for one of my favorite shows, The X-Files–IMHO, one of the best TV shows ever.

So in the spirit of tradition, here are some of my votes for best and worst of The X-Files. Previously, I did best and worst episodes. Now let’s get down to the really important stuff.

Best Gruesome Deaths
15. Drowned in liquid nitrogen. Roland
14. Stung to death by virus-carrying bees. Zero Sum
13. Eaten by a giant python. Die Hand Die Verletzt
12. Stabbed in the stomach with an oil can spout. Blood
11. Cocooned alive by thousands of glowing insects. Darkness Falls
10. Dying from the effects of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease after consuming a man with the disease. Our Town
9. Sucked dry by a spider/alien thingie that crawled out of a fake-human’s mouth. Travelers
8. Being beaten to death by the inbred Peacock brothers, who were just gross. Home


7. Ex-sanguinated by 8-year-old daughter. Eve
6. Brain-sucked by giant invisible insect. Folie a Deux
5. Live, carnivorous liver extraction by Eugene Victor Tooms. Squeeze, Tooms
4. Lipids Hoover’ed from body by fat-sucking vampire. 2Shy
3. Consumed alive by creature who regurgitated remains in order to rid victim of illness. (Technically, they were resurrected, but … ew.) The Gift
2. Eaten from within by giant fluke. The Host
And, in my humble opinion, the most disgusting death ever on The X-Files comes from the grossest episode ever:
1. Contracting a fatal illness after being infected by bugs that exploded from undulating pustules in a guy’s face. F. Emasculata

On a related note:
Greatest Chalk Outline Ev.er
The remains of the scientist whose head was frozen in liquid nitrogen and then shattered. Roland


Best Guest Actors

  • Peter Boyle as Clyde Bruckman, the psychic insurance salesman. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
  • Giovanni Ribisi, the first time most of us saw him, as homicidal lightning-strike survivor Darin Peter Oswald. DPO
  • Tracey Ellis as damaged abuse survivor Lucy Householder. Oubliette

  • Charles Nelson Reilly, being Charles Nelson Reilly and awesome. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space
  • Joe Spano as a conscientious crash investigator whose world gets spun. Tempus Fugit/Max
  • Kristin Lehman as uber-gothchick Esther Nairn. Killswitch
  • Hard-boiled blind girl Marty Glenn, as embodied by the frequent girlcrush goddess Lili Taylor. Mind’s Eye
  • Crusty old dude Geoffrey Lewis playing crusty really-old-dude Alfred Fellig, the photographer with a nose for death. Tithonus
  • Carrie Hamilton (Carol Burnett’s daughter who died of cancer three years after this episode) gives a quivering mess of a performance as a haunted woman trapped in a deadly time-loop. Monday
  • Jesse L. Martin is simply transcendant in his portrayal of a misfit alien who just wants to live to love baseball. The Unnatural
  • CCH Pounder came to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and she was all out of bubblegum, as Agent Kazdin, totally in charge of Duane Barry’s hostage negotiation team. Duane Barry/Ascension

Best Humor
12. Quagmire
Scully: “… you’re like Ahab. You’re so… consumed by your personal vengeance against life, whether it be its inherent cruelties or its mysteries, that everything takes on a warped significance to your megalomaniacal cosmology.”
Mulder: “Scully, are you coming onto me?”
Only The X-Files could get away with this level of nerdy, wordy flirting, all while our heroes are searching for the equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. I even laughed when Scully’s dog Queegqueg was eaten, and I love dogs.

11. X-Cops
Pitch-perfect parody of Cops, only with more werewolves.

10. How the Ghosts Stole Christmas
“Paramasturbatory?” With more gore and chills than most serial killer movies, this Christmas carol from the creators of The X-Files has a twinkle in its bloodied eye, mostly thanks to Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner as the playfully homicidal ghosts.

9. Arcadia
Mulder and Scully’s foray into suburban married life, complete with Dick Van Dyke show references and deals with arcane killer gods. Good times.

8. Humbug
Let’s face it, Darin Morgan was funny. All four of his scripts appear in this list and he helped on some of the others. This one is non-stop fun. One of many favorite lines:
Lanny, the man with the partial twin sticking from his side: “Mr. Nut, the kind-hearted manager here, convinced me that to make a living by publicly displaying my deformity lacked dignity. So… now I carry other people’s luggage.”

7. Post-Modern Prometheus
Not as funny a Frankenstein parody as Young Frankenstein, but then again, what is? The townspeople who look suspectly like animals in the genetic-freakazoid town are great, as is J. Peterman himself (John O’Hurley) as the mad scientist. “Because I can!”

6. Dreamland I and II
Self-indulgent, yes, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a hoot as Mulder plays domestic while Scully has to put up with a butt-slapping, smoking, ass-kissing Mulder.

5. Bad Blood
The vampire episode played for laughs. Well-played.

4. Unusual Suspects
The origin story of the best comic sidekicks on the show would have to be funny as The Lone Gunmen discover Mulder and the conspiracy. Frohike to Langley, in jail: “You know, with that long, blond hair, you’ll be the first one in here that gets traded for cigarettes.”

3. Small Potatoes
Writer Darin Morgan is funny as an actor, too, as he plays the loser who transforms himself into Mulder to get some play with Scully. (This one was written by also-funny writer Vince Gilligan.)
Scully: “I don’t imagine you need to be told this, Mulder, but you’re not a loser.”
Mulder: “Yeah, but I’m not Eddie van Blundht either, am I?”

2. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
Darin Morgan’s genius was such that one of the best, most poignant and most popular episodes was also one of the funniest. Guest star Peter Boyle out-deadpanned even Mulder.
Bruckman (looking at Mulder’s badge): “I’m supposed to believe that’s a real name?”

1. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space
Darin Morgan, are you surprised? Nobody parodied The X-Files, the seriousness, the muddled alien/government/military connections, better than the show itself.
Jose Chung: “I don’t know which was more disturbing, his description of the inner core reincarnated souls’ sex orgy, or the fact that the whole thing was written in screenplay format.”
(An abductee, explaining how Mulder and Scully were really Men In Black): “One of them was disguised as a woman, but wasn’t pulling it off. Like, her hair was red, but it was a little too red, y’know?”
Scully: “That was Detective Manners. He said they just found your bleeping UFO.”

Okay, that’s enough for now. Whew. I Loved this show.

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The X-Files Twenty Years Later: Still Truthy?

As impossible as it seems, it’s been twenty years since the Deadpan Duo of Mulder and Scully blazed onto the TV scene, making it cooler, rainier, and more paranoid than ever before.

The Truth is Out There. Trust No One. I Want to Believe. It’s hard to remember when the pop culture lexicon wasn’t peppered with references to the giant government conspiracy concerning aliens, the military, shady informants and something to do with honey bees.

Show creator Chris Carter threw together elements of shows that he liked as a kid, including Kolchak the Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone and The Avengers, mixed in a little Watergate-era cynicism about the government, and managed to create something wholly original and ground-breaking.

Mulder became the embodiment of a crusading believer. Scully stood for ethical skepticism. The military-industrial complex took a hit. Cell phones were never better showcased.

The X-Files did that thing that great TV shows do, which is that it took the form of TV storytelling, which allows for long, drawn-out arcs and character complexity not often seen elsewhere, and made magic out of it.

I feel some best-of lists coming on. (Lists presented chronologically.)
(Disclaimer–Like a lot of fans, I didn’t watch most of the 9th season, so if there was something fabulous between the opener and the finale that I’m missing, I apologize. Apology is policy, after all.)

Top Ten Best Myth-Arc Episodes
1. Little Green Men

How would the agents function when they were miles apart, no more X-Files? This episode showed the creativity of the writers in finding ways to keep their chemistry alive onscreen. Bonus: the message from space sending the information from the Voyager spacecraft back to us. Space geek alert!

2. Duane Barry/Ascension
Take Steve Railsback’s pitch-perfect performance as a terrified and terrifying abductee. Add some juicy Mulder/Scully moments as they continue to bond despite being forcibly separated by the FBI. Mix it all up with Mulder’s pretty new partner Alex Krycek, nowhere near as clean-cut as he seems. Finish it off with a dash of inveterate Hey It’s That Gal CCH Pounder opening up cans of whoop-ass on every scene she steals and you’ve got topnotch, movie-quality entertainment.

3. Colony/End Game
Alien bounty hunters and green slime and clones, oh my! The set piece with the alien space ship in the frozen waters was one of the best visuals of the series.

4. Nisei/731
A good demonstration of how the mythology episodes advanced the overall story but still muddied up the works enough to keep us guessing. For fans of X, lepers, and trains.

5. Piper Maru/Apocrypha
Some highlights: the introduction of the black oil and leaving Krycek stranded in an impressive nuclear silo set.

6. Tunguska/Terma
The black oil gets a starring role in this grim, brutal episode as Mulder runs afoul of a Russian gulag with only Krycek as a translator.

7. Memento Mori
From Gillian Anderson’s lullabye-like voice-over narration at the start all the way to the hug in the hallway that was almost Mully’s first kiss, this episode is infused with a revelatory atmosphere, vivid moments that underscore the cost of the crusade in small-scale human terms.

8. Tempus Fugit/Max
Helped along by guest stars Joe Spano and Scott Bellis, who reprises his role as NICAP’s own Max, this airplane-crash mystery has action, alien conspiracy and a deepening of pop culture’s UFO mythology.

9. Redux II
After the talky lecturing of the hugely disappointing Redux I, this little gem pulled the 2-parter out of the dumps with the resolution of Scully’s cancer storyline and some of Duchovny’s best acting.

10. Patient X/The Red and the Black
Come for the faceless aliens and wheelchair abductions. Stay for the family drama of bitter son Jeffrey Spender vying with Mulder for the attention of his mother (Cancer Man’s wife) and ultimately the approval of his murderous father. Bonus points: When did Veronica Cartwright get so cool?

No real surprises here, other than my stubborn insistence on excluding the Anasazi/Blessing Way/Paper Clip trilogy that’s usually a staple of best-of lists. Though there is much to love in the action-packed 3-parter (Skinner rocks!), I find the corny, talky scenes of dead people Explaining it All For You to be un-rewatchable. Same for the otherwise excellent Talitha Cumi/Herrenvolk. The interrogation scene between Cancer Man and the alien Jeremiah Smith, where they talk like gods who’ve been given cheesy dialogue by a hack writer, is a tragic wasted opportunity.

Top Ten Best Standalone Episodes
1. Beyond the Sea
One of the first role-reversal episodes where Scully is the one challenging Mulder to believe, this entry also sets up Scully’s daddy issues and showcases Gillian Anderson’s considerable acting chops.

2. Ice
Yes, it’s a rip-off of John Carpenter’s The Thing (it’s in the dog, the alien is in the dog, didn’t you see The Thing?). But that, of course, was a rip-off/remake of another Thing movie from the 50s, which was based on a book that ripped off another story…there are no new stories. But what Ice does is take the tropes and tired themes and breathe new life into them, using the remarkable chemistry of the leads to put a whole new stamp on a familiar story.

3. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
Among the many things this episode does well is the writing trick I most admire, and that’s to successfully mix tones. Humor, pathos, suspense, philosophy. Clyde Bruckman has it all in a seamless smorgasbord of storytelling. One of four scripts by The X-Files best writer, Darin Morgan, this one deserved its writing Emmy as well as its frequent inclusion in Top Ten and Best Of lists.

4. Oubliette
The actor who plays Lucy, Tracey Ellis, gives a vivid, searing portrayal of a haunted, damaged-beyond-repair abuse survivor, making this an unforgettable entry.

5. Pusher
“Cerulean blue…cerulean blue…” Robert Patrick Modell looked ordinary, but he was a bad-ass bad guy in this seminal episode.

6. Unruhe
Yes, Scully being kidnapped and tied up was getting kind of old, but the writing, acting and directing were so good, it was easy to overlook. Stellar work from the regular cast as well as Pruitt Taylor Vince, a HITG who’s always great.

7. Paper Hearts
Poignant, tense, absorbing, yes, this episode is all that. But what I like best about it is how it shows Mulder in his previous life in the behavioral crimes unit, something alluded to but rarely depicted. Mulder is so out there most of the time. Here we get to see the promising career he sacrificed to his obsession.

8. Leonard Betts
Yeah, it was gross. Sure, the guy ate cancer and could regrow himself from out of his mouth. A fine example of the classy gross-outs that were a staple of the show. But this one was also poignant and intriguing, with a killer hook at the end. “You have something that I need,” said the cancer-eating man to Scully. Kapow.

9. Drive
A prime example of the kind of writing the show did well. Everyday people caught up in something bigger and more deadly than they could understand and Mulder trying to throw himself in between them and the bad guys to cushion the blow.

10. Triangle
Inventive and fun, this romp into the Bermuda triangle and an alternate-past story involving Nazis was the writers showing off a bit. By the 6th season, they were so comfortable with their characters and their world, they could shake it up, blow on it, roll the dice and come up snake eyes every time. Also: Skinner rocks!

Worst of the X-Files
Hey, it can’t all be sunshine and black oil. These entries missed the mark, but I was happy with how few there were relative to the series’ longevity.

Jersey Devil
The playful banter and seeing Scully all femmed up for a date are a lot of fun. But the monster-of-the-week in this one is so un-monstery as to be embarrassing. And the smug, gleeful anthropologist who Explains it All For You does a Simon Oakland in Psycho, killing all drama with a totally told-and-not-shown lecture about what’s at stake.

Space
I’m with Chris Carter on loving the space program, but this episode is not the homage he intended, plus it’s unfocused and boring. Nice try, though.

The Field Where I Died
Another great concept that just didn’t fly–past lives, reincarnation. Plodding pacing and Duchovny trying too hard to get an Emmy nomination make this one deadly dull.

Redux I
Full of The Writers Explain it All For You, to the point of having inserts of historical photographs to show the military/industrial complex’s diabolical plan. Talk about your authorial intrusion.

Firewalker
A pale imitation of Darkness Falls and other good episodes that put our heroes in isolation.

Grotesque
No detraction from the awesome Kurtwood Smith, but this grim, convoluted episode is slow and just no fun at all.

Emily
After the intriguing and sort of fun part one, A Christmas Carol, this cold, sterile entry into the mythology of Scully’s ova falls totally flat.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Know How Objectively Great They Are, But I Love These Episodes
Darkness Falls
Mulder and Scully in isolation with some unstable people and a deadly threat. And glowy, man-eating bugs! Good times.
Dod Kalm
Mulder and Scully in isolation with a few unstable people and a deadly threat. And premature aging! Good times.
Dreamland I and II
It’s silly and stretched out a bit, but come on. Lenny of Lenny and Squiggy pretending to be a Man in Black pretending to be Mulder? Priceless.
Jose Chung’s From Outer Space
Charles Nelson Reilly. A Darin Morgan script. Self-parody of the highest order. Mulder’s scream. What more do you need?
Quagmire
It’s not the tightest episode but they have a lot of fun with this send-up of the Loch Ness Monster.
Rain King
Whimsy, Wizard of Oz motifs and Mully in all its glory.
Small Potatoes
An excuse to get some Mully action, plus a lot of self-parodying humor.
Tithonus
Wonderfully creepy. Also has the quality that makes a great standalone; the guest character brings with him the feeling of a wealth of story that happened before. Geoffrey Lewis is terrific.
The Unnatural
Written by Duchovny and featuring an obvious cover-up for the missing Darren McGavin, the baseball-themed episode shouldn’t have worked. But Josh Exley, alien star of the Negro Leagues, is such a sweet, poignant character. I love this one.
War of the Coprophages
“Her name is … Bambi?” Die, Bug, Die! “I never thought I’d say this to you, Scully, but you smell bad.” And killer cockroaches. And a sailor shoring up on chocolates and silk stockings. The fun just goes on and on. Another Darin Morgan script.
Wetwired
TV violence really does make you kill as Scully goes slowly nuts in this tense thriller.

I can’t contain my X-Philia to just one post, so this week, I’ll be doing more best-of and worst-of lists, plus an examination of how Mully beat the Moonlighting curse and a little sumptin-sumptin on Scully, the X-Files and gender. Tune in! Add your own. Just don’t go including Home in a best-of list unless you can defend the claim with your life.

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Star Trek Into Darkness: Light on the Darkness but Still a Fun Ride

The multi-hyphenate JJ Abrams, writer-director-producer-ADHD wunderkind, pulled off quite the coup 4 years ago when he skillfully revived a beloved franchise even ardent fans thought was toe up. Abrams admitted he’d never seen the show, yet he managed to capture the most important aspects for many fans–great characters and a spirit of adventure among the stars.

Abrams and company do it again in Star Trek: Into Darkness. This time, amid debates about the Prime Directive and lots of clever banter, a superhuman supervillain attacks Star Fleet itself and Kirk and company go after him amid debates about vengeance vs. justice and lots of clever banter. I’m not really clear on what the title means by into darkness, since there’s no more darkness here than a lighter episode of Battlestar Galactica (the new version) and there’s considerably more humor. But I’m okay with that. Abrams directs with a sure hand for scenecraft: when to begin a scene, when to end it, when to blow shit up. I don’t need Star Trek to be constant heart of darkness moral horror.

The writers continue to make good on the brilliant twist of the first film: using the stupid Rambaldi ball from Alias to both excuse the divergences from the original series and reimagine beloved aspects and storylines. I will admit to wishing they had not tread such familiar ground, but they are trying to reach a wider audience and sometimes you gotta’ play your heavy hitters. Spoiler alert though I’m sure everyone and their dog knows by now: there is no more heavy hitter in the TOS Trekverse than Khaaaaan! Except maybe the Borg.

Speaking of writing: I was terrified to see Damon Lindelof’s name added to the writing team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman; PTSD from Prometheus and also from some episodes of Lost with Lindelof’s name on them. But the soup isn’t ruined from too many chefs, not even chefs who wrote the dialogue in Prometheus. Here’s a blog post from writer Guy Bergstrom about set ups and payoffs and how to brew a great plot.

The actors once again pull off resembling the originals but not being carbon copies. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are perfect as the slash icons Kirk/Spock, bickering like the old married couple they always were while all that chemistry bubbles underneath. Karl Urban does his best with the underwritten role of Bones. NuHura, played by Zoe Saldana, is as strong and smart as the original. The unexpected Uhura/Spock pairing (Upock? Spura?) continues to pay off and I’m digging the surprising Kirk/Uhura friendship.

The only false note among the characterizations? Scotty. I adore Simon Pegg and he’s engaging and fun. He’s just not Scotty, the stalwart nuts-n-bolts guy of TOS. And what’s with the random sidekick?

Benedict Cumberbatch manages to be convincing as the superhuman supervillain. (Yes, Cumberbatch is his real name–Jon Stewart should nominate him for the most Dickensian surname of the year award.) Cumberbatch made for a slinky, slightly sociopathic Sherlock in the new BBC series. Here, he overcomes his pasty Brit boyness and beefs up nicely for the action-heavy role.

(Spoiler alert: Given the character’s name, Khan Noonian Singh, couldn’t they have found a Brit with at least some Indian blood/brown skin in him somewhere? I know Ricardo Montalban wasn’t Indian, but he was brown. And who cares? Remember those guns?)

The new movie is taking a lot of heat from critics and bloggers. (Here’s a scathingly amusing take from i09-The Spoiler FAQ.) I don’t disagree with the criticisms overall. I just didn’t notice them while I was watching the movie and that’s the mark of compelling storytelling. To those lifelong Trekkies who are comparing it unfavorably to the original series and the movies, I have this to say: “I’m gonna crack my knuckles and jump for joy–I got a clean bill of health from Dr. McCoy.” Remember the space hippies? Or how about Star Trek the Motion Picture, a rip-off of a middling TOS episode and one of the most ass-numbingly boring entries in any scifi series?

And then there was the first few seasons of Star Trek Next Gen, the first of DS9 and almost all of Enterprise.

Iconic doesn’t mean flawless. We didn’t love the original series because it never made any mistakes or got stupid. This latest installment of the venerable series holds up the fine traditions of action, humor and humanity amid the stars.

4 out of 5 stars.

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Iron Man 3: The Curse of the Threequel

When you make a film as close to perfection as Iron Man, of course it’s going to be hard to keep up the quality for the sequel and the next sequel and maybe the other sequel and the prequel. The reviews for Iron Man 3 have been okay but certainly not the rapturous ode to joy of the original or the more measured praise of #2.

In other words, I had my expectations reasonably lowered. Even so, Iron Man 3 is a sore disappointment.

Everything looks the same as in the vivid world of Tony Stark we’ve come to love. The Malibu beach house right out of a James Bond fantasy. Flashy cars. Robert Downey Jr. doing his best suave, damaged Tony, managing to wrest a few funny and poignant moments from an overcrowded and unfocused script. (The interactions with the kid are surprisingly effective, compared to what usually happens when you add a supposedly cute, precocious moppet to the mix.)

Missing is the sense of gritty reality that marks the first two films. Yes, I know there’s no magical flying machine that turns billionaire playboys into one-man armies. But Iron Man the original totally made me forget that for a while.

#3 seems so intent on ramping up the action and pumping up the volume that it forgets the part where human beings are supposed to be more important than the suits.

What is it that makes sequels work again? One simple factor-did they recapture the spirit of the original? Did they remember why we fell in love in the first place? Shrek 2 did. Aliens did. The second Pirates of the Caribbean totally captured the spirit of fun and adventure of the original. Number three? Forgot all about the fun.

So why did we fall in love with Iron Man in the first place? Because it was a bad-ass superhero flick that never forgot its heart. No matter how fantastical events became, Tony Stark kept us grounded in reality–in Tony Stark’s and possibly Robert Downey Jr’s troubled, brilliant humanity. There was more man than iron, more character arc than hardware.

As IM3 proceeded, I felt as though whole sequences had been hijacked by Transformers the Movie-make that the second Transformers movie. (Hint: You never, ever want your movie to remind anyone of Transformers 2 in any way.) Way too much going on, zipping by so fast I couldn’t follow who or what was doing what to whom and I came to realize to my horror I didn’t really care.

I also didn’t buy the PTSD angle that was meant to give Tony his internal conflict. This is a guy held prisoner in a cave, deadly shrapnel pointing at his heart that might drop him at any moment, witnessing his savior die to free him, who survived the betrayal of his business partner-cum-father figure and numerous battles where he almost died and he’s wigging out about some alien-god figures who come through a wormhole? Why? Like a lot of the movie, it didn’t ring true.

Though all three movies had different writers, this is the first one not directed by Jon Favreau (who plays Happy in the movie.) Shane Black is at the helm here. Black will always have a special place in my heart for writing Lethal Weapon, one of the best screenplays ever. His name is on this one in the writing credits as well, though I don’t see many traces of his trademark character moments or sparkling dialogue. Black’s directorial focus seems to be much more about how to squeeze in one more extraneous element to the already overbloated action sequences than how to really make the moments resonate.

It’s possible to make a busy, noisy, overstuffed superhero movie and still maintain a sense of connection to the characters and the story. Joss Whedon, who directed the multi-story, multi-character The Avengers, I’m looking right at you. No matter how much was going on, Whedon never let the characters get lost or the central conflict or the humor or the humanity. I felt so disconnected from the characters and story in IM3 that nothing much had an impact, not even momentous events near the end. Not even the normally Oscar-caliber acting of Downey Jr. could infuse those flat moments with any real pathos or gravitas.

I wish I could call this an interesting failure, but it wasn’t even interesting. Much like watching Back to the Future Two, I kept wishing I was watching the original film. A movie becomes a Rewatchable usually because of great scenes strung together with solid transitions. There isn’t a single scene in this film I want to watch again.

Sorry, Iron Man franchise, but I give this a 2 out of 5 stars.
The brief Credit Cookie gets a 5 out of 5 stars, though. Stay for it.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Threequels That Didn’t Suck.
Dark Knight Rises
Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness
Exorcist 3: Legion
Harry Potter 3: The Prisoner of Azkaban
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Shrek 3
Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock
Toy Story 3

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Roger (Ebert) and Me

No one was surprised by the death of Roger Ebert last week and many were amazed he’d made it this long: the film critic, writer and social commentator had long suffered from an insidious, unshakeable cancer. But that doesn’t mean his death wasn’t a shock, a cold blow to the soul, a huge loss of a one-of-a-kind character.

At the Movies
Like almost all latent film nerds, I watched Siskel and Ebert’s Sneak Previews on Sundays on PBS and no matter what the show evolved into, it was always Siskel and Ebert to me. Siskel, “the bald one,” critiqued movies more from the head while Ebert, “the fat one,” talked from his heart. The two frenemies were always fun to watch, agreeing, disagreeing, snarking, but always, always passionate about movies.

They were also among the first film critics I ever saw who talked about the subtext of film and how images and ideas mattered to the larger culture. Their reviews included critiques of how women and minorities were treated in the movies and the effects of perspective when dealing with violence. They talked about movies as though they mattered and not just for simple entertainment. They required that filmmakers take some responsibility for their work and think about how it contributed to the overall culture. (Not that Roger was as stuffy as that sounds, as one of his screenwriting effort attests: “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” didn’t exactly sweep the awards shows for quality writing.)

Siskel died way too young, cutting short one of the best pop-culture, odd-couple cult duos ever. But Roger kept on, writing his movie reviews and books, partnering with a series of critics for more reviews on TV, making a career out of his passion.

Cinema Interruptus Interrupted
I first saw him in person in 1992 at his annual Cinema Interruptus, part of the Boulder World Affair’s Conference and a must-see for CU film students. The Interruptus was a five-day orgy of film analysis and appreciation. Ebert screened a movie the first day and then for the subsequent four days, he would stop the film to make comments and observations. He was always a man of the people and anyone in the audience could yell “Stop!” and overanalyze the film along with him.

Though I was never an official film student, I made the trek to Boulder every day that week for Roger, and for movies. That year, he deconstructed Silence of the Lambs, lovingly explaining the basics of film composition to us noobs and patiently waiting through mouthy film students’ comments in his polite yet acerbic way. Most of what I know about film and quite a bit of what I know about cinematic storytelling came out of those 10 magical hours in the dark.

You can get a taste of the fun listening to his DVD commentary for Citizen Kane. Ever wonder why that movie is so lauded when the storytelling usually leaves most people a little cold? Roger helps put it in historical context and demonstrates the technical genius of Orson Welles’ innovations. His commentary is more informative and inspiring than the talented director Peter Bogdanovich, who does one in the same edition. Sorry Peter, Roger was just more engaging, informative and fun. He always treated pop-culture like it mattered. Movies were not mere entertainment but they had a pulse and a heartbeat and were the stuff La Dolce Vita was made out of-the sweet life. La Dolce Vita, the Fellini film, the subject of 4 of his Cinema Interruptuses. How I wish I had made it to one of them.

It was a truly sad day in 2011 when he announced he could no longer continue, but the tradition continues on, this year with writer/producer Terence McNally dissecting One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Rock Star
He came to Tattered Cover when I worked there as a bookseller to sign his latest book about movies. As you might expect, he was pretty much the Roger we all knew from a distance-funny, incisive, opinionated, frank–and brimming over with love for movies, for pop culture, for the human condition. His signings were always packed and he put on a good show. It was like he carved himself out a niche all his own, movie critic/pop culture icon/social commentator/entertainer/rock star. I can’t think of another critic who drew such an enthusiastic crowd.

At that signing, he recommended Mulholland Drive, saying it wasn’t like a typical David Lynch film. Though I’m not a fan of some of David Lynch’s more out-there films, I saw Mulholland Drive on Roger’s recommendation. I wished I knew him well enough to approach him and demand my $10 back because, sorry Roger, Mulholland Drive is exactly like a David Lynch movie. (Straight Story, now that’s not a typical David Lynch movie, yet it’s terrific.)

I imagine a lot of us talk to Roger in our heads, agreeing, arguing, wanting to engage. He was that kind of fellow, accessible, friendly but not cloying, one of us. His books especially are like long, late nights with your favorite slightly-cranky uncle, arguing over movies, always, movies.

Buy Roger’s books from Tattered Cover online.

La Dolce Vita
The last time I saw Roger was in 2009 when he did his film interruptus with Jim Emerson for the movie Chop Shop. I wasn’t a huge fan of the movie and wouldn’t have bothered but I wanted to see Roger because, with all of his health scares, you never knew. Roger, shockingly thin, cancerous jaw removed and wearing a black harness around his chin, typed into the computer and Emerson read his words aloud. Yep–wry, funny, incisive, generous, snarky–even translated from technology through another person, it was unmistakably Roger’s voice.

For many of us, for me, the voice of the movies.

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j.a. kazimer Came Back! She Came Back!

“Enjoy the ride, enjoy writing what you love, what you’re passionate about, enjoy every rejection, and celebrate every step forward…”
j.a. kazimer

My heterosexual Girl Crush love affair with j.a. kazimer began when I read the opening of her novel Curses: A F***ed-Up Fairytale as a contest entry. I thought she was a dude and kind of flirted with her in the judge’s comments.

Years later, her book was published and I learned the truth-not a dude. But then I met her and I went on crushing on her anyway.

All this to say, Julie has a new book out! Froggy Style, the second in her series of F***ed-Up Fairy Tales, can be found here, on jakazimer.com. Poke around the site some, it’s a hoot.

Froggy Style and why you should buy it:

Jean-Michel La Grenouille has a lot going for him. He’s a prince. Handsome. Filthy rich. And definitely charming. But he also spent his first few years as a fly-catching, pond-dwelling frog. All that saved him was the kiss of The One, the girl who saw nobility through his slimy form and fell into True Love. Okay, fine. Technically she was a toddler who tried to eat him, but whatever. The curse broke, and as long as he finds and marries her by his 30th birthday, he’s a free man.
Trouble is, he’s going to be 30 in ten days, and he’s getting some seriously cold-blooded feet. He’s pretty sure Princess Sleeping Beauty is The One. But his best man has some villain issues, his in-laws-to-be belong in a really special castle, and a smoking-hot lady biker named Lollie Bliss has him rethinking all this happily-ever-after stuff.
Oh, and he may have accidentally put out a hit on his blushing bride. Oopsie.

And now, Julie answers some random questions for us all!

Devlin: Sick of talking about fairytales yet? No? Which fairytale character would you be if you had to choose? Which one would you most like to date?
Julie: That is the best question. What surprises me about talking fairy tales is, when I ask readers, who’s your favorite prince, the answer is, about 75% of the time, The Beast from Beauty and the Beast. If you think about it, that makes sense since he’s the only prince with a whiff of danger and the scent of wet dog. All the other ones have many too bizarre fetishes, like feet, or in Sleeping Beauty’s case, necrophilia. Hence my fairy tale princely dating choices are slim. But I will always be a villain girl at heart. Now that I think about it, maybe Mirror, Mirror on the Wall would be a good date. He’d at least tell me if my butt looked big in my little black dress.

Devlin: Your book promotion for Curses was hindered by reviewers and media outlets that couldn’t handle the F bomb, even when it was disguised with asterisks. (Hello, Westminster, WTF?) Any effing regrets?
Julie: Not about using the F word. I love the f-word. So very much.
Funnily enough, I’m getting less exposure from media/reviewers/bookstores this time due to the frogs…well…enjoying each other’s company on the cover. In fact, a number of bookstores have refused to carry it due to the cover. Next they’ll be putting paper bags over the frogs like gas stations used to do to Playboy. I’ve had lots of people buy Froggy Style simply for the cover art, and others say they would by it except the cover is too racy. Weird, right?
Who knew frog fornication was such a touchy topic?


Devlin: You were recently featured on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog in the Big Idea column. Scalzi had something like 8 million views last year. How does that experience compare with being on my blog TWICE?

Julie: Seriously no comparison. Chris Devlin’s blog is a little piece of heaven. Only us cool kids get to hangout. Suck it, Scalzi! (Oh, that’s going to come back to bite me.)

Devlin: We’ve come down on different sides in the Grimm vs. Once Upon a Time online invitational caged death matches. I’ve come to appreciate Grimm more and OuaT less, though I still love Gold/Rumple. Where are you at in the Big Battle?
Julie: For my own good, I had to give up on Once Upon a Time. Too many of their ideas are mine that watching it became a screaming at the TV match. Sure, I thought of the idea or character two years ago, but since publishing takes so long, it looks like they thought of it first. Pisses me off to no end.
Now I like Grimm. I hate the guy who plays the Grimm, he’s such a bad actor, but the wolf sidekick makes the show. I like the sort of noir feel to the show too.

Devlin: What’s the difference between an urban legend and a fairytale?
Julie: Wow, another great question. I’ve asked myself this often. Both are morality tales, warnings of what we shouldn’t do. Both are handed down from generation to generation verbally and in written form. The only differences are the fantasy element of fairy tales and the happily ever after. Losing your kidneys in Las Vegas is hardly a happily ever after tale.

Devlin: Now that you’re on the other side, the enchanted side, of being a writer (published), what pearls of wisdom would you send back to those of us who haven’t yet found the magic words? Does Bibbity Bobbity Boo work?
Julie: Okay, here’s a huge secret published writers keep to ourselves: It doesn’t get any freaking easier. No matter where you are in the journey, there’s always someone crushing your dreams or writers with better sales or an award that slipped by.
I figured once I published one book that glass ceiling would break and my career would take off. Not quite. Publishers are dropping authors, established authors, right and left. If you’re not an instant hit, your future is uncertain. What used to be grand sales numbers aren’t cutting it anymore. Authors are expected to work less on writing books and more on marketing.
So my best pearl of wisdom is, enjoy the ride, enjoy writing what you love, what you’re passionate about, enjoy every rejection, and celebrate every step forward, like sending that next query letter after you get two rejections in your email or getting a story published.
Oh, and whiskey. Lots and lots of whiskey.

Devlin: Some fans might not know that you’re not just a one-trick enchanted-woodland writer, i.e., you write stuff besides fractured fairy tales. What’s your favorite of your non-fae books?
Julie: I’m a total mystery/crime fiction nerd. All my books have those elements. But my favorite, an addiction fiction mystery titled, Dope Sick: A Love Story, was just published by Snubnose Press. It’s my favorite because it was my first ‘real’ book I wrote. I started it 10 years ago, accumulated over 500 rejections for it, revised it 25 times, and finally found the perfect press for it. Plus it has a follow-up novel titled SHANK that I love just as much. The characters are my absolute favorites of any of the books I’ve written.

Devlin: What question do you wish I’d asked?
Julie: What color panties am I wearing? That question never gets old.

Devlin: What question are you so relieved I didn’t ask?
Julie: Why the hell aren’t you wearing panties, you sick freak?
Thank you, Devlin. You always have the best questions!

Find Julie on Facebook
Her Amazon author page
Julie on Twitter

Thanks, Julie, for once again classing up the joint. On a final note–cake!


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